Monday is Labor Day in the United States, when the nation honors its workers in parades, picnics and other celebrations. Comedian Jerry Lewis hosts another Labor Day tradition: an extended telethon that raises millions of dollars for children with the debilitating condition called muscular dystrophy. The telethon this year will also help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Bob Mackle of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which sponsors the 21.5 - hour televised fundraiser, says the destruction wrought by Katrina required a change of direction for the annual telethon.
"We decided that this disaster is of such a magnitude that we have to help, there's no way around that," said Bob Mackle. "So we're going to have separate appeals from big-name stars, and they will be diverting those funds to the Salvation Army Relief Fund. We'll be doing a joint effort this year with them to try to help people with muscular dystrophy and also to help the victims in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama."
In addition to the money raised from viewers during the broadcast, the association has also pledged one million dollars from its own funds for the hurricane victims.
Host Jerry Lewis will this year mark his 40th annual broadcast on the charity fundraiser. Scores of celebrity performers will appear on the telecast, which raises funds for research and services for more than one million Americans with neuromuscular diseases.
The telecast starts Sunday evening following days of preparations by cast members and technicians.
Debbie Williams is stage manager for the telethon, which she says is the oldest and biggest event of its kind. "This is the granddaddy of them all, and there isn't anything like this," said Debbie Williams. "This team puts together a lot of the variety shows and specials on TV, and this is a breed of its own. I've been doing it now for 20 years. All of us have been doing it for a very long time. We're all exhausted when it's over, but we all feel good."
The Labor Day telethon raised $59 million last year.